Why Is Obama So Unpopular When He Got So Much Done?

The latest quandary for Democrats is why Obama’s poll numbers continue to slide when he has accomplished so much on behalf of the nation.  “Gee, he has passed so much legislation, why isn’t he more popular?” they ask.  The thinking is that because he isn’t a “do nothing” president, Obama should be much more popular.

The latest version of this lament, and one of the more nuanced, is The Paradox of a Legislative President by Matt Bai in the NYT.  As usual, however, it is all about the “framing”:

In conversations over the past few weeks, some of the party’s leading strategists told me that it all comes down to messaging, or — here’s that ubiquitous word again — “framing.” The president who ran such a brilliant campaign, they argue, has utterly failed to communicate his successes. They cited factors like the president’s cool demeanor and suggested that he hadn’t used the right words or shown the proper empathy.

Once again, the voters just don’t seem to understand how successful Obama has been.  The problem, you see, is that the Administration failed to sufficiently explain itself and rally enough support for their agenda:

“By focusing on getting big legislative accomplishments, which was understandable, they necessarily gave up a larger image of him as president,” Mr. Podesta said, referring to White House advisers. “They cast him as the prime minister. They were kind of locked into the day-to-day workings on the Hill.”

* * *

Mr. Obama’s central strategy was to concentrate on cajoling Democratic lawmakers into passing a series of bills — the stimulus package, the health care overhaul, a new set of financial regulations. Rather than spend a lot of time rallying public support for the agenda, Mr. Podesta said, the administration expected to get an “updraft” from an improving economy; the bet was that, as unemployment came down and consumer confidence rose, public opinion would more or less take care of itself.

* * *

And so, without the modest economic revival Mr. Obama and his aides expected, voters saw trillions of dollars being spent and wondered whether there was a coherent strategy for growth. Mr. Obama, whose skills as an explainer were so instrumental in winning the office, did little sustained explaining of the crisis outside Washington.

The strategy had other implications for Mr. Obama’s image. As Mr. Podesta points out, part of the president’s significant appeal to voters — “a big part of the secret sauce of getting him elected” — was his promise to transcend perennial partisanship.

* * *

“Once you became a legislative president, which is arguably what you needed to do, you couldn’t deliver on the nonpartisanship promise,” Mr. Podesta said. “And it’s something people wanted.”

The Democrats just don’t get it. 

The reason — the only reason — that Obama got these monstrous bills passed was because the Democrats found themselves in control of the White House, the House, and 60+ seats in the Senate.  They then declared “we won” and either decided not to bother reaching out across the aisle, or redefined bipartisanship as peeling off one or two squishy Republican senators.

But people wanted some  true bipartisanship.  Obama’s assertion that he would work across the aisle was a big part of his appeal. 

That promise survived almost as long as his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center.  Once in power, the Democrats shut the Republicans out of the debate completely, then passed wildly unpopular and equally expensive bills over the vocal objection of voters — not just Republicans, but a large majority of independents as well — on pure party lines.

Obama and the other Democrats never even tried to build a consensus on the stimulus spending, the healthcare bill, financial regulation, or anything else.  They thought they could steamroll the Republicans with their majorities (they did) and the public would look up to them as the rock stars they perceived themselves to be (they didn’t).

Podesta is right that the Democrats would have been forgiven for some of their transgressions if the economy had turned.  But it hasn’t.  Quite the opposite, actually.  We are in at best stagnation, and are likely to head into the second dip of a double-dip recession.  And this time, it will (rightly) be perceived as because of, rather than in spite of, the Democrats’ irresponsible governance.

If they have proven anything, the Democrats have proven that they haven’t the slightest idea how to govern like adults, they spend like drunken sailors, they don’t particularly care what voters think, and they are absolutely beholden to their union masters.  It hasn’t been ugly because making sausage is ugly; it has been ugly because of the rancid ingredients the Democrats are cooking up.  And in the process, the Democrats have slaughtered the credibility of their Keynesian sacred cow.

In short, the Democrats have proven beyond doubt the accuracy of P.J. O’Rourke’s great maxim: “Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” 

It is not the “framing,” the ‘messaging,” the “rallying,” or the “explaining” that is the source of the Democrats’ problems.  It’s the Agenda, stupid.

Published in: on August 18, 2010 at 5:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

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